By / 06-23-2020 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)

This character usually refers to the water surrounding continents and islands. It is also used as an adjective, meaning a large amount of something.

hǎi nèi cún zhī jǐ

Hai nei refers to any place of the earth. Cun means existence and zhi ji indicates the one who understands our own thoughts and has a deep understanding of ourselves.

This is a famous line from “Farewell to Vice-Prefect Du” by Wang Bo (650–676), one of the four outstanding poets of the early Tang.

This poem was given to Vice-Prefect Du, who was leaving to take office in Shuzhou, Sichuan Province. The poem communicates Wang Bo’s attempt to console his friend’s sadness as he leaves Chang’an City.

“By this wall that surrounds the three Ch’in districts,/ Through a mist that makes five rivers one,/ We bid each other a sad farewell,/ We two officials going opposite ways.../ And yet, while China holds our friendship,/ And heaven remains our neighbourhood,/ Why should you linger at the fork of the road,/ Wiping your eyes like a heart-broken child?” (trans. Witter Bynner).

The first two lines describe the venue of farewell and the destination his friend is preparing to set off from. “Through a mist” indicates that the poet can see Sichuan thousands of miles away. These sentences imply an emotional farewell, but also narrow down the distance between the two places mentally, allowing the reader to feel that there is no need to worry about departing.

The second two lines show that Wang Bo and his friend share the same circumstances, working far away from their homes. He tries to console his friend and relieve his loneliness.

The emotional tone of the next two lines changes from grief to generosity. The poem suggests that even though as close confidants they will live far away from each other, their common spiritual world will make it as if they were living in the same neighborhood. This means that real friendship remains permanent, unhindered by time and space.

Unlike the sorrow and touching emotion that farewell poems usually contain, this poem reflects Wang’s great ambition and open-minded attitude. As he expresses in the last two lines of the poem, his friend should not weep for those who leave are still immersed in love.


​edited by NIU XIAOQIAN